The epic of the American Civil War played out in events the world over. This fine marine painting by the British-born artist subtly shares the devastating impact the war had on American shipping. The Confederate commerce raider ALABAMA, arguably one of the most successful ships in naval history, fires a shell at the America-built clipper, CHALLENGER, after she ignored their firing of two blank rounds. Yorke's realism extends to the different smokes of ALABAMA's coal-burning engine and cannon battery.
Their encounter occurred on June 16, 1863 in the south Atlantic. ALABAMA boarded three vessels earlier that day, and after this shot CHALLENGER hove to. Once boarded, her captain produced papers which stated she was now British-owned, renamed QUEEN OF BEAUTY, and bound with 300 passengers and cargo for Australia. ALABAMA's famous Confederate States Admiral, Ralph Semmes, and his onboard prize court, which had ruled in earlier cases many such documents were forgeries and burned ships, decided that all was in order and the ship was released. He writes in his log that the passengers gave ALABAMA's crew three hearty cheers when they shoved off.
American and British records indicate another story. The Samuel Pook designed 1853 clipper ran various routes, including the California trade, for Reed & Wade of Boston. The war's turmoil led them to sell CHALLENGER foreign in 1863, to a Peruvian government agent stationed in San Francisco. Soon, renamed CAMILLE CAVOUR, she was involved in the disreputable Chinese labor and guano nitrate trade. At this time there was already a British full-rigged ship named QUEEN OF BEAUTY built in 1861 which remained on their merchant list until well after the war's end. In seems possible that one may have escaped ALABAMA, as Yorke shows here with her full spread of canvas, including stuns'ls, carrying her away. So many American ships were sold, captured and destroyed (more than 60 by ALABAMA) that Britain would be in position to lead the world's merchant marine for the next 75 years.
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